Asthma and Allergies

Beverly Merz

Dissolvable tablets don’t work for people with severe allergies to grass pollen

Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

People with allergies to grass pollen may have cheered last year when the FDA approved a no-needles treatment —a daily tablet you dissolve under your tongue. These tables deliver low doses of grass pollen to the bloodstream. This is done to “teach” the immune system not to wage war on grass pollen. It turns out that these tablets don’t work that well. An analysis of 13 controlled clinical trials indicates that dissolvable tablets are only slightly more effective than placebos in curtailing classic symptoms of grass pollen allergy—runny nose, itchy eyes, and tickly throat. To make matters worse, more than 60% of people who used the tablets experienced irritating side effects.

Jake Miller

Environmentally friendly inhalers double the cost for people with asthma

Jake Miller, Contributing Editor

Environmentally friendly asthma inhalers may be good for the atmosphere, but they have nearly doubled what people with asthma are paying out of pocket for their inhalers. That’s the take-home message from a study led by Dr. Anupam Jena, an assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The findings were published online today in JAMA Internal Medicine. In 2008, the FDA banned a class of asthma inhalers that contained ozone-depleting propellants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The switch to CFC-free inhalers has led to an average increase of $10 per inhaler prescription, which has effectively doubled their cost.

Gregory Curfman, MD

Children who eat peanuts at an early age may prevent peanut allergies

Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Peanut allergies can cause severe and sometimes deadly allergic reactions. A new study holds out the possibility that peanuts themselves may prevent peanut allergies. An international team asked parents of infants who were prone to a peanut allergy to give their children a peanut-based snack called Bamba or peanut butter three times a week until age five. The parents of another group of peanut allergy-prone infants were asked to make sure their children didn’t eat any peanuts, peanut butter, or other peanut-based products until age five. The results were surprising and dramatic. A peanut allergy developed in 1.9% of children who ate Bamba or peanut butter, compared with 13.7% of those who didn’t eat peanuts. This new work suggests that preventing peanut allergies may be a possibility in the near future.

Going gluten-free just because? Here’s what you need to know

Holly Strawbridge, Former Editor, Harvard Health

After being confined to health-food stores for years, gluten-free foods have become the latest food fad. Supermarket aisles abound with products proudly labeled “Gluten free,” and many restaurants now offer gluten-free options. For people who can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, this abundance is a blessing. But lately it’s become hip to go gluten-free. Based on little or no evidence other than testimonials in the media, people have been switching to gluten-free diets to lose weight, boost energy, treat autism, or generally feel healthier. People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better doing this, but most won’t get a significant benefit from the practice—and will pay more for food because gluten-free products are expensive. It’s important to know that it can set you up for nutritional deficiencies such as a dearth of B vitamins and fiber.